Following an introduction by Sophia Agronovich quoting NY Times music critic Anthony Tommasini’s appraisal, “Kathleen Supové's trademark is “exploding piano,” Kathleen postulated that her subtitle for today's lecture might be “Neo- Romanticism and Neo-Impressionism in Current Piano Music.” For more about the artist, explore her most impressive website at supove.com.
Kathleen lives in Brooklyn, where an old ballroom has been made into an experimental music center called Roulette. She performed a solo recital there during the pandemic via Zoom, wearing a mask.
On the program was a set of etudes originally composed for flute by Canadian Nicole Lesera. Kathleen got funds to transcribe a version for piano and showed it to us in a film of “Crazy Pandemic Blowout.”
A black and white film is projected on a huge screen behind the piano. In addition to playing on the piano keyboard, Kathleen struck a cowbell and a microphone with a dagger, tapped a plastic card on the side of the wooden piano music rack, moved her fingers on top of piano strings, used a spray can, threw bang snaps on the floor in specific rhythmic patterns and spun a tube for water flotation sounds.
In Kathleen's opinion, this piece has some Classical elements and adds Contemporary-like syncs to the film. In answering questions from MEA members, Kathleen said this etude is a multi-media performance, a study of synchronization of rhythm, film and doing extraneous things coordinating with the piano. She takes scenes from movies and, reusing them, turns them into “icon” status, celebrating both the movie and the music. The Hitchcock movies, the Kubrick movies, especially where Doris Day is playing the piano, and the Tarantino “Kill Bill” Series work well transformed into etudes.
Next, Kathleen played “Etude for Melancholy Robots” by Will Healy. Healy also lives in Brooklyn and has a group that combines Hip-Hop with Classical music called “Shout House.” This piece is not Hip-Hop but combines Neo-Romanticism (or Neo-Impressionism) with some Liszt or Chopin. Kathleen showed us a page of the score with new notation consisting of wavy lines above the staff that mean to change tempo, to accelerate. Will Healy has a series of music for "melancholy robots." There is an opportunity for improvisation in the middle of some pieces, reminding her of twenty-first century music with a touch of experimentation.
Although Anthony Green lives in Amsterdam, he spends time in Boston, where he founded Castle of our Skins, an organization that promotes the music of black composers. His piece “To Anacreon in the U.S.'' is inspired by Debussy's prelude “Feux d'artifice” with“La Marseillaise”at the end. Green uses our national anthem at the end of “To Anacreon in the U.S.” and his title emphasizes that its tune was originally an anthem of an eighteenth-century English gentlemen's club, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”
Wanting to compose a piece of her own that was inspired by and integrated with drawings, Kathleen asked a family to draw graphic scores based on their experiences with the pandemic. With the piano, other “instruments,” and a screen to display the drawings, she shared this piece with us. The work began with a drawing by the mother, a physician. Using a turkey baster, which was supposed to look like a needle, Kathleen hit the piano strings.
The second picture, by the older son, emphasizes social issues and Kathleen changed her music. The younger son, depressed by no in-person school, drew what looked like a Day of the Dead skull, so Kathleen used Chinese ritual balls and a mallet on the strings; she plucked a deep bass string steadily with her left hand and repeated a right hand theme higher on the keys.
Answering questions from MEA members, Kathleen explained her methods of composing: she seeks, she discovers, she invents, she selects. She comes up with a graphic image; then writes down plans for certain timings, pacings, motifs or themes. If a passage involves lots of moving, she sits down occasionally or works out a compromise to safeguard her wrists and back. She uses an iPad AirTurn foot pedal to ease her page turning.
Kathleen explained that when she first started concertizing and getting into contemporary music, she wanted to avoid program notes. She decided to elucidate and use multi-media to illuminate the piece in an artist's way. She is drawn to contemporary music because it is not yet codified by anyone. Involving her students: Kathleen asked a student who was practicing the left hand of a piece to make up a vocal part for it. She recommended a recent article in The New Yorker magazine on the "Stanislavski Acting Method" which explains that Stanislavski came up with a method because he was trying to keep fresh a role that was acted onstage night-after-night.
Kathleen played for us “Azuretta” by Regina Harris Baiocchi, composed in 2000. Regina, who lives in Chicago, wrote a piece in homage to her teacher, Hale Smith, who suffered a stroke. Kathleen commented that this is “simple like a John Field piece.” Then she played “Impromptu Op. 131, No. 2” by Lowell Lieberman, composed in 2016. This piece she recommends for “people trying to be introduced to contemporary music. It is like late Liszt meets a Chopin nocturne.”
Kathleen says she has certain goalposts; other parts she leaves to chance. Sometimes she made better decisions the last time she played a piece. About teaching, she finds kids more creative until the sixth grade. “You need to have courage and shamelessness; a lack of inhibition.“ She can teach in a conventional way, but pushes some kids to “make it up." She tells her students to contact composers for copies of their scores.
Kathleen gave us her email address in case we have questions: Kathyexploding@gmail.com. This was a fascinating presentation that brought MEA members to the cutting edge (figuratively and literally) of contemporary music. Composing has certainly come a long way from avoiding parallel fifths.
Beverly Shea, writer, layout
Bertha Mandel, editor
Lisa Gonzalez, screen-shots